‘Dallas Buyers Club’ challenges convention and comes up trumps

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A couple of decades ago I watched a film about a guy going through HIV diagnosis, ‘Longtime Companion’, which left me so depressed I had to walk out of the cinema three-quarters of a way through. I don’t think I’ve yet gotten around to watching the film’s ending. Fast forward to 2014 and ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ – starring Matthew McConaughey – has taken a sensitive subject and turned it into one of absolute hope and heroism.

Of all actors to play the part of an individual going through the trauma of HIV diagnosis back in its earlier days, McConaughey doesn’t spring to mind. And of all characters, his high-falluting cowboy is the last you’d expect to be the centre of sensitive diagnostic attention.

Set in Texas from 1985 onward, lone star Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) is given 30 days to live by his doctors, but refuses to accept this sudden death sentence. Instead he begins researching everything he can about the debilitating virus to discover that there are indeed alternative drugs (read: vitamins and peptides) that are being overlooked, if not suspiciously avoided, by the conservative medical fraternity.

So Woodroof takes it upon himself to smuggle the helpful drugs in from Mexico to the US, which he sells via memberships to an underground ‘buyers club’. His business partner is a very unlikely transsexual named Rayon (unlikely because Woodroof is such a homophobe at the start of the movie and has absolutely nothing to do with “homos”, “queers”, “fucking fags”).

While Rayon, played with awesome conviction by Jared Leto, mixes his/her good drugs with some harder, recreational substances that ultimately lead to a tragic ending, Woodroof does his best to stay on the right track. In fact, he ends up as a poster child of sorts for the fight against HIV/Aids – with images of the Marlboro Man springing to mind even before they’re flirted with on the big screen.

With its title alone, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ is a film I figured would be all about gambling and hustling – in the usual nihilistic sense of the words. It is a bit about gambling in the sense that its characters are taking big chances in adopting unorthodox methods to cope with a headline epidemic, and it’s definitely got a bit of a ‘hustler’ factor in the way these characters go about getting their drugs to their clients.

But ultimately, the film sees its characters evolve into absolute heroes. Champions in the cause against stubborn medical institutions, and true ground-breakers in an area of medicine that might otherwise have taken many more years to progress.

Woodroof ends up living an action-packed heck of a lot longer than his doctors first warned. And that is the mark of a true hero in our books.

See the film and realise what all the Golden Globe and Oscar fuss is about.

‘Dallas Buyers Club’ is in cinemas February 13 with advance screenings from February 7.
To view the trailer, click here.